Ranji Trophy: In-form Kerala ready for Punjab test

Kerala will have to fight the cold weather as it takes on Punjab at the PCA Stadium.

Gearing up: Kerala head coach Dav Whatmore (left) and Sachin Baby at the PCA Stadium in Mohali on Saturday.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

It is biting cold in this part of the world. Not even the glorious afternoon sun can help much; the cold wind ensures that.

The weather could not have been more different for Kerala’s cricketers, who have arrived here from the hot climes down South. But, this season in the Ranji Trophy, they have proved they can play and win in a variety of conditions.

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On a seaming track at the Eden Gardens and a turning one in Thiruvananthapuram, the team destroyed former champions Bengal and Delhi inside three days. Little wonder that Kerala’s players looked all charged up as they trained under the watchful eyes of coach Dav Whatmore on the eve of the Elite Group B match at the PCA Stadium on Saturday.

‘Confident’ Punjab

A win here would considerably boost the team’s chances of qualifying for the knockout stage. With 20 points, it is ranked fifth in Elite Group A and Elite Group B combined. The top five, at the end of the league stage, will enter the knockouts.

Punjab, on the other hand, occupies the 11th place with just 13 points. “We have to go for the full points in this game,” Punjab’s cricket manager Rajdeep Kalsi said. “The boys are in a confident frame of mind, after the great game against Hyderabad a few days ago.”

Red-hot form

In a thrilling draw in Hyderabad, Punjab attempted an audacious chase of 338 in 57 overs, but fell 14 runs short. Opener Shubman Gill had led the charge with a sensational 148 off 154 balls. Gill, India’s Under-19 World Cup hero, has so far amassed 536 runs in the Ranji Trophy at an average of 134.

Punjab's Shubman Gill (left) and Manpreet Gony at the PCA Stadium on Saturday. Photo: Akhilesh Kumar

 

Skipper Mandeep Singh and Gurkeerat Mann have also been among the runs. Seamer Siddharth Kaul is expected to lead the attack on a pitch that is likely to help bowlers of his kind. Leg-spinner Mayank Markande, the leading wicket-taker, with 19 scalps, is also expected to play a crucial role.

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Kerala’s seamers have been done better this season. Sandeep Warrier, Basil Thampi and M. D. Nidheesh should enjoy bowling here. The visiting side will also be hoping for another fine show from its remarkably consistent all-rounder Jalaj Saxena (465 runs, and 28 wickets with his off-spin bowling).

“Jalaj gives so many options to the team. He has played a key role in making this team do well in all conditions,” said Whatmore.

The teams (from)
  • Punjab: Mandeep Singh (c), Shubman Gill, Jiwanjot Singh, Anmolpreet Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Gurkeerat Mann, Gitansh Khera, Mayank Markande, Siddharth Kaul, Sandeep Sharma, Baltej Singh, Arpit Pannu, Sanvir Singh, Vinay Chaudhary and Manpreet Gony.
  • Kerala: Sachin Baby (c), Sanju V. Samson, P. Rahul, Rohan Prem, V. A. Jagadeesh, Arun Karthik, Jalaj Saxena, Vishnu Vinod, Muhammed Azharuddeen, Sijomon Joseph, Akshay Chandran, Sandeep Warrier, Basil Thampi, M.D. Nidheesh, Abhishek Mohan and Vinoop S. Manoharan.